Fall Break, The Gambia

All seven of us were piled into a sept-place for the drive from the Casamance to Bajul, the capital city of the Gambia. The Gambia is an interesting country because it sits in the middle of Senegal, snaking inward following the Gambia river. It was colonized by the British, rather than the French so the official language is English, although Wolof is still spoken by the majority.

Our first hurdle was crossing the border. We had heard that tourists sometimes run into trouble crossing the border, occasionally having to bribe officials and pay large amounts of money to obtain their tourist visas. We were shuffled into a back room and our passports were taken into a different room to be examined. We were then told that in order to get our visas we would each have to pay either 40,000 cfa (roughly $80) or 3,500 dalasi (about $70) depending on whether or not we wanted to exchange our cfa to the Gambian currency, dalasi. We decided to exchange to dalasi in order to save money and we all went outside where there was a collection of men informally exchanging money. After paying the officials, we headed into a different room where we our passports were stamped and we officially entered the country. Next step was the drug search. Our car was unloaded and officials searched through our belongings. It was interesting to note that the two men in our group were more thoroughly searched, going into a separate room and emptying their entire bags to go through each individual belonging. The rest of us simply unzipped our bags and were waved on, apparently posing less of a risk than the men. We reloaded the car and continued on our way to Bajul.

Once in Bajul, we had some difficulty finding our Airbnb, as many of the roads marked on the map turned out to be sandy side roads. At one point our car got stuck for over 40 minutes and it took about 10 kind neighborhood boys to help us push it out of the sand. After that, we felt bad and paid up our sept-place driver, continuing on on foot. It took us another hour to find our house and thankfully a random man took pity on us and helped us call the owner and figure out that we were in fact miles away from where we needed to be. He arranged a car to take us the rest of the way and we finally found the house.

This was the first in a series of several hiccups with our Airbnb. We had sprung for an entire house, complete with an above ground pool on the roof. However, upon arrival we found out that in order to pill the pool we would have to pay for the electricity need to pump the water. In fact, electricity was not included with the price of the Airbnb and we would have to purchase all of the electricity we wanted to use. To purchase the electricity, you had to walk over a mile to a little stand and then return with a receipt to then enter into the meter. Thinking that we had enough electricity for the night, we all piled into bed, happy to have air conditioning in the stifling heat. This feeling didn’t last long, as the electricity ran out after a few hours and the AC turned off. Everyone slept terribly, sweating through their clothes and feeling uncomfortable simply touching the bedsheets. First thing in the morning, one of us headed off to get more electricity, while the rest of us experimented with the kitchen.

The kitchen had been a huge selling point for us as we were all craving fresh meals with lots of vegetables and other healthy foods. However, after several singed eyebrows and mini explosions from the oven, we discovered that we would have to make due with one burner or risk hairlessness or worse. We spent the day eating food and lazing about the house, not having the energy to leave and make the trek into town, which was several miles away.

The next few days were much of the same, cooking up delicious meals and enjoying each others company. We swam mini laps in our tiny pool and took turns walking to the market to restock on food. We left once to visit a monkey park, only a few miles away. We wandered through the rich forest while monkeys came directly up to us, wanting to be fed. We ended up not going into the city of Bajul itself, which was further away than we had initially thought when booking the Airbnb.

It was funny to finally be in a place where everyone spoke English and no one in our group could get used to it, greeting everyone we meet with the French “Bonjour, ça va?” (Hello, how are you?). It was also interesting to note the level of English people spoke, which was probably similar to the level of French people spoke in the rest of Senegal. It made us all feel a little better about a French level and the many mistakes we make when speaking. For many people in the Gambia and Senegal, English and French are second languages, learned at school, but usually not spoken frequently at home. Because of this, people are more understanding of mistakes and are not critical as long as you can get what you want to express across.

Although we ran into several issues with our living situation, we throughly enjoyed our time spent in the Gambia, cooking lavish meals every night and spending lots of time chatting and laughing with each other. It was a nice way to end our vacation and I think everyone was just about ready to return home to the familiar city of Dakar. The only thing standing in our way was the trip home, which we had done nothing to plan for…